Sunday, July 28, 2019

Interview: Walter Block on the demise of American manufacturing -- and the role labor unions play

Editor's note: This story was originally published on January 24, 2017.

This is the third article in a six-part series featuring the views of Walter Block. The first and second pieces are available on-line.

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

Let us go back in time. We are not traveling too far, so there is no need to wonder if what you are wearing is out of fashion. Even your hairstyle is just fine – it will fit in like a glove.

Early September 2016: Donald Trump finds himself at the beginning of a perilous slide in the polls as Hillary Clinton wraps up her nominating convention. She has star power; not just that of movie stars and music personalities, but the growingly popular president and his well-liked wife.

Say what you will about Barack and Michelle Obama, but their combined charisma is a force among forces to be reckoned with on even the most challenging of campaign trails.

Pundits, pollsters, political operatives, and public officeholders on both sides of the partisan divide – most of whom never cared for Trump from the start – espouse warnings of doom for his candidacy. Even as their voices grow louder, eventually reaching the level of a continuous shriek, the folks at home hardly adopt a more positive image of Clinton.

An NBC News/Survey Monkey poll finds that only 11 percent of Americans deem her "honest" and "trustworthy".

On an episode of his show, progressive talk radio host Jimmy Dore describes Clinton's campaign as "window dressing on s—t .... We know who Hillary Clinton is. Everybody does. That's why she can't beat –she can't get past 50 percent – she can't beat Donald Trump .... The Democrats should be ashamed of themselves, but they're not because it's all about money. They don't care."

Dore also notes that Clinton is "not a liberal, she's not a progressive. You know what she is? She's a neocon war hawk in bed with corporations, the pharmaceutical industry, and Wall Street."

Clinton's team ignores Dore and asks this of the electorate: "Ready for Hillary"?

The Clinton camp certainly got their answer. Why was it so far off from what they were expecting, though?

Jumping back to the present, it is now clear that millions upon millions of voters did not care for the social issues she espoused; even if many agreed with her on them, public priorities were not in alignment with identity politics or the pet causes of social justice warriors.

Instead, the Average Jack or Jane was focused on the bread and butter of politics: cold, hard cash – specifically how more of it might flow into their hands. These people did not believe that Clinton offered them anything substantive, and in fact might wind up opposing their interests. As such, they voted for Trump, even if it was admitted that some of his antics flew way over the top.

One crucial reason Trump generated Teflon-like support was an appeal to nostalgia. He conjured images of America’s postwar economic era – that golden period in the mid-twentieth century when the United States was big, bold, and the unquestioned cacique of humanity itself outside the Communist Bloc.

Needless to mention, things have changed considerably since then.

One reason the American economy fails to meet postwar standards is that it produces a decreasing number of material goods. What could be done to reinvigorate our manufacturing sector?

“Part of the reason for the ‘rust belt’ is that other countries (e.g., China) have a comparative advantage over us in terms of production of items produced by this sector,” Dr. Walter Block explains to me. He is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics – how is that for an accomplished title? – at Loyola University New Orleans’s J.A. Butt School of Business.

Block is also the author of Defending the Undefendable, a bestseller from 1976 which conservative journo Marcus Epstein said portrays “pimps, drug dealers, blackmailers, corrupt policemen, and loan sharks as 'economic heroes'.” In more flattering terms, John Stossel claimed it introduced him “to the beauties of libertarianism. It explains that so much of what is assumed to be evil – is not.”

As Block is an Austrian School economist with solid anarcho-capitalist cred, not to mention a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and an uncompromising individualist, it is unlikely that he cares about what the peanut gallery has to say concerning his philosophy.

“Another portion is due to innovation (think cars supplanting horses),” Block continues. “Nothing should be done about either of these (I say this as a libertarian) and my judgment as an economist is that if anything is done, it will be counterproductive. Labor unions are an entirely different matter. Why is it that the rust belt occupies the northeast quadrant of our country?

“It is because that is where organized labor is and was strongest. While unions are not per se always and ever necessarily in violation of the non-aggression principle (NAP) of libertarianism, as a practical matter this is invariably the case. And here [President] Trump is in a position to do something about this. He, too, has a pen and a telephone about which President Obama bragged. He can appoint members of cabinet who can undermine evil union powers.”

What about the powers enjoyed by China – specifically those used to manipulate its currency? While the subject of currency is raised, how about the United States making a return to the gold standard? Dr. Block addresses these timely topics tomorrow.